CEO as Genetic Engineer - Monsanto morphs

Monsanto Chemicals came to a decision in 1994 that it had to re-invent itself. Monsanto brought Gemini Consulting on board to help facilitate the process. The President of Gemini called it "CEO as genetic engineer."

Internal and External Communications, IEC, was a leading media firm involved in computer-based training for Fortune 500 (F-500) firms. IEC hired me with the Monsanto/Gemini project in mind, mainly because of my technical writing experience as well as expertise in chemical plant operations - unit ops.

Gemini contracted IEC to document how Gemini benchmarked - that is, how they documented the best practices of the client. Another way to say "best practices," is "the way the successful people seem to be doing something."

Based upon that, the IEC team I was on was charged with authoring an interactive computer-based training program geared toward senior consultants.

The IEC people were sharp. I took over from a writer who had introduced the Ferengi in "Star Trek" series. My co-writer was a UCLA Film School instructor who also wrote for "Knots Landing" and "My So-called Life."

Re-engineering is a nice word for corporate restructuring - also sometimes known as reorganization; and at still other times called down-sizing. Structures that worked perfectly in 1974 were not up to scratch in 1994. At Monsanto there was excess capacity. There were inefficiencies.

How best to resolve that? Re-engineer from top to bottom and go into the operating units to effect that "genetic" change. But this was a challenge as it was obvious that changes would lead to dislocation - another nice word that means "lay-offs."

But forward Monsanto went with Gemini helping all the way. Gemini's approach was three-fold:

  1. Gain credibility
  2. Get buy-in
  3. Implement

The Gemini consultants coming in to effect the change had to be credible and the credibility had to be sustained. The concern the consultants had was they might go from "hero to zero."

The second part of the process was involving the people who had to live with the change. The words were, "if we have to shrink, stay the same, or expand to meet the goals, we will do so." There was no present goal of reducing force by some percentage or shutting down capacity. However productivity and financial goals were stated and it was up to the people in the operating units - with the guidance of the consultants - to propose the changes.

The third step was to go from the proposals to the implementation. Since the ideas came from the plant personnel - with strong wage-roll representation - if the buying stage was handled properly, the implementation followed.

Although a lot can be said for Monsanto and Gemini in this engagement, one wonders where the Monsanto management was in this. Was there confidence in Monsanto's managers if they had an outside group come in in order to restructure?

One thing I learned early was management's responsibility to manage.

Bringing in a third party. We are all familiar with trade unions. Why do people vote for a union at a plant or factory? A union comes in when management is not doing its job. As one wag once said, "a vote for a union is not so much a vote for the union as it is a vote against management." Why is there the need for a third party to help management do its job?

Certainly management needs help from time to time, but in something so sweeping, would this not be the best time for management to pony up and show leadership?

Where do the values come from and how are they instilled? Are they instilled by consultants or do they flow through the organization.

This is a tricky process and not a simple question to answer.

Perhaps this will be worth revisiting as I do my retrospective on why I personally feel makes a corporation resilient and what happens to a corporation that does not last longer than three score and ten - sometimes less.

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